Read the new letter from ISUOG's President, Prof. Tom Bourne, about the latest ultrasound COVID-related issues and updates on our World Congress and International Symposium events.
Well, let us hope 2021 will prove better than the last one. It’s not exactly a hard bar to clear given that in 2020 “doomscrolling” was the word of the year in at least one country. I suspect you have all read plenty of “looking back on a year of COVID” newsletters so I will skip over that. Currently, the vaccine roll out has given a light at the end of the tunnel in some countries, but vaccines must be universal and available in low-income countries too if we are going to control the pandemic. Whilst writing this, in the UK we are seeing a rapid growth in COVID cases due to a new variant of the virus with other variants of concern on the horizon, colleagues are becoming sick again, and hospitals are on the brink of being overwhelmed. It really does feel a bit like an apocalypse movie on Netflix sometimes.
Most people working with ultrasound are seeing unscreened patients in environments that are not “COVID secure”. Scanning rooms tend to be small and often poorly ventilated. Examinations often take more than 15 minutes. This is a recipe for contagion. More infective mutations mean that current PPE may not be as effective. I would argue that healthcare professionals working with ultrasound should be vaccinated early, both to protect them and the patients they are attending to. This is not happening in many countries. I would also suggest they need maximum protection and so need both doses of vaccine at the times recommended by the manufacturer. Changing the vaccine schedule, as is happening in the UK at the moment (and will be considered elsewhere), may be expedient in the context of overall public health, however, healthcare workers are not the general population and are exposed to higher levels of risk.
A number of large registry trials are now reporting on the impact of COVID on pregnancy, as well as there being other new COVID-related issues, for example around vaccination in pregnancy. To update everyone with the latest information, ISUOG will be running another of its successful “COVID webinars” on Sunday February 11th, so look out for this on the website.
We have all had to do a lot of things differently this year and the obvious question is which aspects of these new ways of working we should retain. An example is the ISUOG World Congress. Many were skeptical about the idea of a fully online congress, but most were pleasantly surprised. Sessions did not run over time, the meeting was more inclusive as people who normally would find the costs of travel and accommodation prohibitive were able to attend. We were also able to invite a much larger speaker pool because the overheads were lower. On the other hand, the absence of face-to-face contact and an inability to catch up with old friends and colleagues diminished the experience for all of us. In future, the World Congress will combine both experiences in a hybrid format.
I am sure we will not see the end of “Zoom” or “Teams”. A number of meetings are more efficiently run this way. However, whilst this is fine for established groups, when starting to build relationships and brainstorm ideas, face-to-face meetings will remain important. What I hope will not continue is the way online working has expanded the working day, with non-urgent meetings being arranged late into the evening, at weekends or at a time in the morning when any reasonable person should still be in bed. Some boundaries must be reestablished. Telemedicine will remain important, not just for consultations, but also for supervision and mentoring a number of practical procedures. In many institutions, red tape and bureaucracy were axed and clinicians enabled to make rapid decisions about how best to deliver services. Turnaround times for ethics committees and other institutional approvals were reduced. I am not optimistic these freedoms will remain as the dead hand of bureaucracy reasserts itself.
What of ISUOG in 2021? In future, ISUOG plans to hold more “International Symposia” (IS), although the current plan is to rebrand them as “Regional Meetings”. The first IS will run on 17–18th April and was meant to take place in Calgary, but now for obvious reasons it will be online and on the same virtual platform as the ISUOG world congress. This is an excellent platform and a very different experience to a standard webinar. The organizing committee in Calgary alongside the ISUOG Education and Scientific Committees have put together a fantastic program, so do take a look at it on the ISUOG website. In 2021, the Education Committee is finalizing a program of monthly webinars and regular full educational courses to cover topics in greater depth. The Clinical Standards Committee is about to commission several new guidelines and will shortly publish a consensus paper on the classification of ovarian masses with ESGO, ESGE and IOTA as partners. The New Year will also see the start of ISUOG podcasts.
ISUOG is keen to engage with and give opportunities to as many people from as many countries as possible. In order for this to happen, ISUOG has to be more accessible. To facilitate this, the society has made a strategic decision to open regional offices, and will start this process in 2021 in South America and hopefully in the Asia-Pacific region. We hope this will help ISUOG provide educational programs and meetings that are tailored to local needs, in the local language where relevant and with opportunities given to local speakers. We have not made a decision on where the World Congress will be held this year. I can tell you that it will be hybrid, and that the meeting will be in Europe, but the final destination has not yet been decided.
So it is left to me to wish you all a happy New Year wherever you are in the world. I am not sure when life will be “normal” or what “normal” will look like. However, I hope that amongst all the loss and the bad news of 2020 we will have learnt to value many of the simple things in life we have missed. I look forward to meeting many of you in person in 2021!
Prof. Tom Bourne,